IRVINE, Calif. – A fourth in Wednesday night’s 100-meter freestyle final punched Conor Dwyer’s airline ticket to Australia.
It also gave him the freedom to let it fly in the rest of the U.S. Championships.
“It’s a big weight off my shoulders,” Dwyer said Thursday morning of having a place on the U.S. team for the Pan Pacific Championships in Australia with the 100 result. “Now I can just have fun and race.”
Dwyer has a race Thursday night he predicted would be fun: the 200 freestyle final against five-time Olympic gold medalist Ryan Lochte, whose comeback from a succession of injuries is going swimmingly.
But Lochte, who also made the final of the 200 backstroke, has chosen to scratch from the 200 freestyle, for which the final is 90 minutes before the backstroke.
If Naperville's Kevin Cordes repeats what he did in Thursday morning's 200 breaststroke heats, the only race will be Cordes against the record book.
“I just swam, and everything clicked," Cordes said.
Cordes, a rising Arizona senior and the fastest breaststroker in collegiate history, was under world-record pace for 150 meters before finishing in 2 minutes, 7.86 seconds. That was .85 off the world mark but broke the 5-year-old meet and U.S. Open records by .15.
He was fastest qualifier for the final by a whopping 2.8 seconds.
“I heard some (crowd) noise around the 100 turn, so I knew I was doing something," Cordes said. "I will come out here tonight and get after it a little bit more in the first 100 and see where that takes me."
Winnetka’s Dwyer (1:47.18) was the second fastest qualifier for the 200 final, behind his North Baltimore Aquatic Club teammate Matt McLean, whose time (1:46.90) is 14th fastest in the world this year. Lochte, with whom Dwyer used to train at the University of Florida, was third fastest at 1:47.41.
All three won gold medals on the U.S. 4 x 200-meter relay at the 2012 Olympics, with Dwyer and Lochte racing the final and McLean the prelims.
Another Winnetkan, rising USC sophomore Reed Malone, was fourth fastest in the heats with a 1:47.78, nearly three seconds under his previous personal best.
Lochte considered retirement barely a year ago. He switched coaches and training bases last fall, moving to Dave Marsh in North Carolina. In November, a fluke collision with a fan led to a torn ACL and strained MCL in the left knee. Then he reinjured the MCL, which sidelined him from early summer competitions.
But Lochte – who turned 30 Sunday – finished a surprising second in the 100 freestyle final.
“This year has been the biggest roller coaster of my life,” Lochte said. “I couldn’t get anything right. I’m glad I pulled this out, but this is just the start.”
Lochte also swam the 200 backstroke heats later Thursday morning and was seventh of the eight qualifiers for the final.
The women’s 200 free final Thursday figures to be a stunning battle between the top two all-around women in the world, Katie Ledecky and Missy Franklin.
Ledecky, 17, world record-holder at 800 and 1,500 meters, blitzed the heats in a personal best 1:55.75, fourth fastest in the world this year. Franklin, 19, reigning world champion in the 200 free, was second fastest in a more modest 1:57.83.
Franklin also was second fastest qualifer for Thursday's 200 backstroke final. She is reigning Olympic world and Olympic champion and world record-holder in that event.